Social media proved itself to be a powerful lifeline in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. While social media has played a large role in emergency situations before, Harvey marks the first “major” hurricane (The US government defines a major hurricane as a Category 3 storm or higher) where we saw rescue missions via social media. In fact, the last time a major hurricane hit in 2005, Twitter did not even exist yet. Stranded and unable to reach traditional rescue outlets, Harvey victims used their smartphones to share maps of their locations, cry for help, and make contact with anyone who could offer relief. Not only did social media prove to be an effective rescue tool, but it also continues to be a valuable means to raise funds.
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Social Media As A Rescue Tool
With 911 lines overwhelmed, Harvey victims took to Twitter to seek help. Using the platform as a megaphone, they tweeted their addresses to emergency officials, shared photos of their current condition, and pleaded for rescue. Twitter users retweeted these pleas, giving rise to #SOSHouston and #SOSHarvey, hashtags filled with rescue requests form people trapped by floodwaters. Even Houston’s chief of police, Art Acevedo, used the social network to field these rescue requests and tweet updates and live video streams from the surrounding area.
The Facebook group “Hurricane Harvey 2017 – Together We Will Make” made a name for itself, giving rise to a community in which people could ask and offer help. Citizens with boats, kayaks, and other vehicles that could make it through the floodwaters organized rescue missions to save those who had requested help.
Social Media As A Fundraising Tool
Facebook shared a message to the top of all its users’ newsfeeds asking for donations for the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund, promising to match every dollar raised on the network up to $1 million. Since then, the online community has helped raise over $10 million.
Houston Texans player JJ Watt harnessed his social media influence to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief, creating an online fund drive with a pledge to match the first $100,000 in donations. To raise awareness about his efforts, he shared a video to his 2.7 million Instagram followers and 3.89 million Twitter followers promising to offer help and asking his followers to donate. As funds came in, he continuously updated the public, setting new goals to meet. He has now raised more than $28 million through this campaign.
Even though social media has shown its usefulness in past emergencies, such as Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the platforms themselves and the way we’ve used them have evolved tremendously and will continue to evolve even more. One thing is for certain – there’s no denying the communication power of social media.